LPS held a guided tour of Norton's  Woodward Forest on Saturday, November 6, 2021. The trail begins near 5 Gateway Lane and the walk is a half mile loop of the 3+ miles of trails in the forest.  The Outreach Committee--Deb Cato, Kathy Ebert Zawasky, Kathy Morgan, Ann Murray, Lauri Pleshar, and Tamah Vest--have researched the rich history and ecology of the area. Attached files cover the handouts and map that were distributed to participants. 

The documents are:

  • Woodward Forest Trail Walk Map
  • Woodward Forest Handout
  • Forest / Vernal Pools
  • Tips and Tidbits

Woodward Forest-walk-new trail-and

Welcome to the Woodward Forest Woods Walk, sponsored by the Norton Land Preservation Society. The LPS is a non-profit organization which has preserved over 1000 acres of open space in Norton and maintains trails on several of its wooded properties. Today we’ll be walking one of the trails in Woodward Forest, a loop named for Frances Shirley who was a founding member of LPS and long-time professor at Wheaton College. We hope you’ll come back often and explore other trails in Woodward Forest. Maps are available on our website: nortonlandpreservation.org. or by scanning the QR code. Link to key for numbers on the map.

Woodward Forest was named for Josiah Woodward (pronounced Wood’ard around here) and his descendants, who settled in this area in the 18
th and 19th centuries and owned much of the land extending from present-day Mike’s Pizza on route 140, as far as the Taunton border. The first Josiah Woodward (that we know of) was born in 1711, the year Norton was incorporated as a town. Josiah the Third lived in the house located at the corner of present-day Taunton Avenue (Route 140) and Old Taunton Avenue. Descendants, many of them also named Josiah, all lived on Woodward family land, which they farmed, for generations to follow. An old map shows that there were 6 Woodward houses on Old Taunton Avenue by 1895. This information comes from Marshall Martin, a member of LPS and Norton native.

Another old family in these parts was the Willis family. The Woodwards and the Willises intermarried, and you can find them all in the cemetery along Old Taunton Avenue. Our walk is on land that was first the Calvin Willis Farm, but eventually went to the Woodwards, who continued to farm it. This was also the time of the Industrial Revolution. Josiah Woodward III sold a piece of land to two brothers from Taunton who ran a copper-iron smelter and rolling mill. They made sheets of copper used to plate ship bottoms. In the 19
th century, disks cut from the copper sheets were sent to the U.S. mint where they were stamped and made into pennies.

In the early 20
th century, the land on our walk went to a family who had it forested and built a sawmill. We’ll come to a meadow that was once much larger, where their sawmill was located. You’ll notice that the path is wider in this area. It was once a cart road for hauling lumber out of the woods. This practice was continued by the next owner of the land into the 1960s.

Deeper in the woods we’ll find a vernal pool. Vernal pools are ephemeral bodies of water. They have no inlet and dry up completely when the water table is very low. This year we’ve had a lot of rain and the vernal pool is full. Vernal pools serve as seasonal breeding grounds for many invertebrate and amphibian species like frogs, toads, and salamanders. They are important natural habitats and vital to maintaining biodiversity.

Other trails in Woodard Forest reveal fascinating remnants from its past, and we hope you’ll take the opportunity to find them. Look for old stone walls that served as fences defining fields. You’ll also find twisted metal fences (a precursor of barbed wire). You’ll walk along the Wading River where Native Americans once fished. And you’ll discover an abundance of ferns, mosses, mushrooms, and bird species that you can hear even if you can’t always see them!

Ann Murray and Laurie Pleshar

Woodward Forest Walk
Nov. 6, 2021

The Forest

We are standing a forest, an
ecosystem (community) which supports a great diversity of living things, from microbes to humans. The forest features a canopy dominated by several types of tall trees including oaks, pines, hemlock, shagbark hickory, ash, black birch, red maple, hazelnut, American chestnut, dogwood, and more.

At this time of the year, the trees are preparing for cold weather by shedding leaves and needles (to a lesser extent) to protect themselves from freezing conditions. Their leaves, twigs and needles are dropping to the forest floor providing shelter and insulation for many invertebrates and protective habitats for mammals including squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, fox, deer, skunks, fishers. Notice how the sky becomes more visible in the autumn as the tall trees let in more light than earlier in the year.

The leaves of the trees and bushes of the forest are responsible for capturing sunlight and turning it into sugar by
photosynthesis. They are the producers, producing energy for their own use as well as food for herbivores (e.g. insects, rabbits, etc.) during most of the year. When the herbivores in turn are eaten by consumers such as other insects, birds, and foxes, they provide the energy these consumers need for life processes. And, of course, predators are able to survive by feeding on the herbivores and using the captured nutrients and energy for their own life cycles.

But many of the products of photosynthesis end up falling to the ground as you can see all around you.
Detritus, as it is called, nourishes huge communities of invertebrates, bacteria and fungi in the soil. They “clean up” the leaf litter as they go through their own life cycles and leave a rich soil for the forest to flourish in when the weather is warmer and the sunlight more abundant.

When winter gives way to spring, sunlight will reach all the way to the forest floor where it will stimulate the growth of the small plants that cover the forest floor.
The forest floor is the first layer of the forest to grow and turn green. It grows a groundcover and goes through its life cycle, culminating in reproduction by forming blossoms with seeds or spore cases (depending on the plants). Ground cover includes Indian cucumber root, wintergreen, wild sarsaparilla, wild oats, eastern starflower, ferns and Canada mayflower. All this activity takes place before taller plants have the chance to shade the groundcover plants.

The second layer of the forest, the shrub or herbaceous layer, takes its turn in a few weeks. This layer grows quickly, rising above the forest floor. Shrubs reproduce by making seeds and leaves that provide new food for the increasing number of hungry birds, insects, and other herbivores that have emerged or returned to the forest. The shrub layer contains witch-hazel, mountain laurel, lowbush blueberry, lady’s slipper and maple-leaf viburnum.

In a few weeks, small trees that make up
the third layer, the sub-canopy, will overshadow the lower layers. Trees 20-30 feet tall such as Dogwoods and Sassafras grow rapidly and reproduce, showing lovely flowers and seeds.

the fourth layer, the canopy, fills out. In late spring/summer all trees leaf out and produce needles, flowers or cones with seeds to guarantee their future. Cooler temperatures bring on the fall with falling leaves and needles.

Vernal Pools

“Vernal Pools are small depressions in the landscape that hold water for at least two months and provide the only breeding habitat for certain types of amphibians and reptiles. The pools are free of adult fish and typically dry completely in the fall. Vernal pools act as little nightclubs where males and females meet. They also act as fast-food restaurants providing ample macro-invertebrate populations to feed larger animals. Vernal pools are some of the most diversely populated habitats found within the landscape. Species that may be observed using vernal pools include wood frogs, spring peepers, American toads, green frogs, gray tree frogs, bull frogs, spotted salamanders, blue-spotted salamanders, marble salamanders, spotted turtles, fairy shrimp, whirligig beetles, predacious diving beetles, mayflies, the larvae and nymphs of many species of damselflies and dragonflies, amphipods, isopods, fishflies, fingernail clams, caddisflies and amphibious snails.”

Jennifer Carlino, Town of Norton Open Space and Recreation Plan 2017-2024, p. 82.

Feel free to take other trails and enjoy nature that Norton has to offer.

Kathleen Ebert-Zawasky